Examining the Impact of Myanmar’s Proposed Smart City on Privacy

myanmar internet privacy smart cities

Guest Post courtesy of #TurnOnVPN

#TurnOnVPN is a cybersecurity advocacy group focusing on a free and unimpeded internet for all. We take part in numerous online events, aimed at promoting a safe, secure, and censor-free Internet.

Recording an average growth of 6.8% for the past 5 years, Myanmar is among the world’s fastest-growing economies. Myanmar’s economy is driven by rapid political and economic reform, which has led to steady gains in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country. Driven by expansion in manufacturing, services, and construction, the rapid economic transformation has created opportunities for many in Myanmar.

The growth is mostly happening in urban areas, leading to a significant increase in Myanmar’s urban population. About 30% of the population now live in cities. As a result, Myanmar is now facing a new set of challenges namely inequality, congestion, and environmental pollution, undermining the government’s efforts to sustainable growth and poverty reduction. However, a new plan to transform Myanmar’s capital into a smart city provides a glimmer of hope.

Benefits of Smart Cities

Smart cities leverage smart technology and data analysis to optimize city functions, drive economic growth, and improve the quality of life of the residents. In January 2020, Myanmar’s construction ministry signed a deal to build a smart city in the country’s largest city, Yangon. The goal of the Yangon smart city is to drive digital transformation and realize a better city. Here are some of the benefits of such a smart city project.

  • Ecological impact. One of the biggest challenges of overpopulation is environmental pollution. The new smart city project will include a waste management system that will recycle trash and reduce waste. It will also be powered by renewable energy sources.
  • Traffic management system. Traffic snarl-ups are an all too common sight in congested cities, and Yangon is no different. The new smart city will feature a traffic management system that will significantly reduce clogging in the streets and make commuting periods shorter.
  • Security system. Insecurity is another common problem plaguing our cities. A smart city would have a security system powered by smart CCTV technology to monitor public safety. These technologies make it easier to catch criminals and keep the city safer.
  • Digital equity. With digital technology as the backbone of the smart city system, ensuring access to digital resources for all city residents is imperative. Smart cities have Wi-Fi hotspots strategically placed throughout the city to provide reliable internet service to all city residents.

Transforming into a smart city is one of the hottest trends at the moment and city authorities around the globe are scrambling to achieve the smart city status. Despite its benefits, becoming a smart city presents its fair share of challenges. For instance, smart city technology often leads to privacy concerns.

The Right to Privacy

As stated earlier in the article, smart cities use smart technology and data analysis to increase operational efficiency and improve the quality of life of city residents. This process often involves massive data collection, which poses a great risk to the right to privacy. Data collected can easily be stolen by cybercriminals. There’s a possibility of misuse of the data collected by private companies trusted with that role.

And as much as a CCTV security system contributes to low crime rates, it can also be used as a mass surveillance tool by state machinery. So, what can be done to help cities such as Yangon reap the benefits of transforming to a smart city without infringing on the residents’ right to privacy?

Protecting privacy in a smart city is a joint effort. On one hand, residents should take necessary security measures to protect their data. For instance, they can download a VPN to protect their identity, especially when accessing the internet via public Wi-Fi networks. City authorities, on the other hand, should strive to ensure that smart cities are designed with the necessary measures to protect the privacy of the citizens.

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